18. Editorial Note

On January 27, 1977, the Department of State issued a statement, in response to a question posed at a January 26 news briefing, concerning the Soviet Union’s treatment of Nobel Prize winning scientist Andrey Sakharov. The statement warned that any “attempts by Soviet authorities to intimidate Mr. Sakharov will not silence legitimate criticism in the Soviet Union and will conflict with accepted international standards in the field of human rights.” (Department of State Bulletin, February 21, 1977, page 138)

During a January 31 news conference held at the Department of State, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance discussed the Carter administration’s response to human rights concerns, specifically Sakharov’s case:

“Q. Jim Anderson, UPI. Mr. Secretary, on the question of international civil rights, is this Administration going to continue the practice of speaking out on cases such as the Sakharov episode? Or are you going to continue the practice of your predecessor, exerting quiet diplomatic pressure and using his concept of linkage?

“Secretary Vance: On the issue of human rights, the President has often expressed his deep concern in this area and has reaffirmed that deep concern in the inauguration address.

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“We will speak frankly about injustice both at home and abroad. We do not intend, however, to be strident or polemical, but we do believe that an abiding respect for human rights is a human value of fundamental importance and that it must be nourished. We will not comment on each and every issue, but we will from time to time comment when we see a threat to human rights, when we believe it constructive to do so.

“Q. Mr. Secretary, Barry Schweid of AP. On the same subject, one of the local pundits yesterday called it sudden diplomacy, suggesting that this speaking out hasn’t been very well thought out, particularly its impact on diplomacy.

“You refer to your trip to Moscow. Do you think the statement you have made on Sakharov and your general view on human rights will have an impact, a negative impact, on negotiations with the Soviet Union? Indeed, isn’t that what Mr. Dobrynin [Anatoliy F. Dobrynin, Soviet Ambassador to the U.S.] called to tell you the other day?

“Secretary Vance: I do not believe that it will have a negative impact. As I indicated, we will from time to time speak out. I have discussed the matter with Mr. Dobrynin, but I am sure that our discussions with the Soviet Union on a whole range of matters will not be adversely affected by what we have said.”

After discussion of several issues, Vance again responded to questions relating to human rights violations:

“Q. Marvin Kalb, CBS. The President said yesterday that perhaps the statement about Sakharov should have been made by him or by you. Yet the day before the State Department made its statement on Sakharov, it did come out with a statement on Czechoslovakia, which apparently had been cleared. Are you not running the danger, sir, of setting up what amounts to a double standard of the manner in which you respond to violations of human rights in the Soviet Union and in smaller countries where there is not a direct, vital interest conflict?

“Secretary Vance: This is a very complex area. As I indicated, we will not be speaking out in every case. We will speak out when we believe it advisable to do so, but that will not be, as I said, in each and every case. It is an area where, as I said, I think we have an obligation to make our views frankly known; but we hope we can do it without being strident, as I said, or intrusive in an improper way.

“Q. Isn’t that really setting up a kind of double standard where the Department, or the Administration, might feel itself more free in condemning human rights in smaller countries where there is not a vital interest affected?

“Secretary Vance: No. I hope we will not have a double standard. I think what we have done so far would indicate we have not.

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“Q. Jim Klurfeld from Newsday. On this same situation, there were reports that you were unhappy with the statement made on the Sakharov situation. I just wonder if you can tell us who did clear that statement. I think the President indicated yesterday he did not clear it. Who did clear it? And whether you feel that this is an instance in which you should not have spoken out.

“Secretary Vance: Let me say I did not see it; it was cleared at lower levels. I am not going to give the name of the individual. I have the responsibility in this Department, and therefore I accept that responsibility fully. Let me say that I respect Mr. Sakharov very deeply; I respect his, Mr. Sakharov’s, principles and his pursuit of those principles.

“Q. Your predecessor frequently said in speeches that not only is it inadvisable but rather it is counterproductive to speak out, specifically in the case of Soviet emigration—or emigration from the Soviet Union by minorities, including Jews, which dropped sharply after the United States tried to exert pressure. Do you subscribe to that theory, particularly, that speaking out is actually counterproductive?

“Secretary Vance: No, I do not share that view.

“Q. If you don’t share that view, could you say what your view is on that specific aspect of the problem?

“Secretary Vance: My view is that at times we will feel it appropriate and necessary to speak out and there will be other times when we will not.” (Ibid., pages 137–138, 140–141; brackets in the original)

In a January 31 evening report to President Jimmy Carter, Vance summarized the major themes of the press conference:

“You may already have seen the first press reports on my press conference this morning so I will not review in detail with you what transpired. The questions asked were along predictable lines, although I was struck by the degree of interest, even sharpness, on human rights issues. Since we have announced that this administration will speak out on selected international human rights issues, we will of course be asked continually why we are commenting on some and not on others. I am confident, however, that we have a credible rationale for making public statements on human rights questions and that the country expects your administration to pay more attention to such issues in the foreign affairs field. We have chosen Pat Derian to be the State Department Human Rights Coordinator which will give us a well qualified and sensitive person to follow human rights issues worldwide.” (Carter Library, Plains File, Subject File, Box 37, State Department Evening Reports, 1–2/77)